When it comes to department, district or company policy, we tend to be on autopilot until some new technology, new national crisis, or new “hot button” issue jogs us into policy development. Although hasty, “knee-jerk” reactions may not always be advisable for a whole host of reasons, there’s another reason to lay low and see if there’s another option to policy creation. When we attack that new issue with new language we can draw unwanted attention and scrutiny from employee unions, the media, parents and others when we would have done better to “not leave the porch light on,” as one labor lawyer recently put it. Read the rest of this entry
Maybe it’s the fact that, just last week, I delivered a keynote presentation in Florida about child abuse. Maybe it’s that, just yesterday, a safety officer for a state association told me of his worry that too much attention is on the threat of the “active shooter” in our schools to the exclusion of the continuing threat to students from sexual violence and domestic abuse. Either way, as I read an article in my local newspaper this morning about the firing of Rutgers College basketball coach Mike Rice, I was frightened by the potential parallels to adults who work with students with special needs – including school bus drivers. Read the rest of this entry
I’m a recovering pessimist. I admit it. In fact, there are times I’m kind of proud of it. Being a cup-half-empty guy doesn’t mean that life is miserable. Quite the contrary; for me it means that I’m never extremely disappointed when something bad not-so-surprisingly occurs. I’m also frequently pleasantly surprised by that positive thing I was pretty sure wouldn’t happen. In fact, I would argue that being a realistic pessimist (some would call us healthy skeptics or even pragmatists) allows a certain freedom. Because I’m pessimistic I take the extra time to help prevent that horrible event that just might happen. This allows me the comfort of knowing that, when I celebrate a success, the celebration probably isn’t going to be interrupted by something awful. Healthy skepticism or pessimism encourages us to prepare for the worst. It frequently keeps us from being surprised and, in many ways, it makes us better managers.
The challenge, as a pessimist, is to not let your expectations bias other people’s actions. For example, whether or not I believe that the Zags (Gonzaga) will go out in the second round of the NCAA championships, despite being ranked #1 in the nation, shouldn’t impact how the team will play. If I were the coach however, it would be best if I kept my doubts to myself. As a leader, it is important to project confidence and a “can do” attitude. If you let your pessimism (or skepticism) rule then you are far less likely to succeed.
To lighten things up on our blog I’ve created the following quiz to help you determine if you’re a secret or out-of-the-closet pessimist too. Count the number of statements you agree with.
- When I don’t hear anything on the dispatch radio, instead of believing everything is functioning smoothly, I’m more likely to believe the radio isn’t working.
- When no one raises any questions after a complex training, I’m as likely to assume they didn’t “get it” rather than assuming we did such a good job teaching and they did such a good job learning.
- When the kids were young and they were “playing quietly” I just knew something was wrong.
- When the host or hostess tells you it will be a ten minute wait for your table, you know it’ll be longer (but they don’t want to lose you as a customer.)
- “No news” probably doesn’t mean “good news.”
- When you see a pint glass that has only 8 ounces of water in it you think either a) half empty or b) someone’s inefficiently assigned the wrong size glass for that water.
- When the weather forecaster says it will be clear with light breezes this weekend he is just as likely to be describing what’s going on in his head as the actual weather forecast.
- When the service company says they’ll be there between 8 and 12, they really mean they have no clue when they’ll be there and they’ll probably be there at 12:15 just after you’ve left home.
- The bus inspector will almost always choose to inspect the one bus that we were too nauseous to finish cleaning last night when returning from a nausea-inducing ride down the mountain.
- I’ve always had a fondness for the saying “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”
- Rush hour seems to change based upon the time I get on the freeway.
If you agreed with 6 or more of the above statements, welcome to the club, fellow pessimist. Hold your head high (but watch out for low hanging objects.)
When I was in-house counsel for the district, I tried to make it a practice to follow up verbal discussion with a short email depicting what we had discussed. I began the practice only after having my “words” come back to me as gospel, when I hadn’t said – or at least meant – what the listener had heard.
At the Transporting Students with Disabilities Conference in Frisco TX last week, I was reminded of the importance of language. What you say can make such a difference.
The first story is one I heard from an attendee in one of my sessions. When a driver, whose primary language is not English, called dispatch to complain that a student had insulted him, the dispatcher heard, instead, that a student had “assaulted him.” The dispatcher immediately called 911, law enforcement arrived in force, and the “molehill” became a “mountain” quite quickly.
We know that parents react quite differently to the word “harness” than they would to “safety vest.” The federal government has, over time, become more sensitive to the reactions of students with special needs and their parents by changing the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142, enacted in 1975) to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1997). In 2010, with little fanfare, President Barack Obama signed legislation known as “Rosa’s Law” requiring the federal government to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in many areas of government.
When I referred at the TSD conference to “mufky pufky” meaning (to me, anyway) “hanky panky” of a sexual nature between students, I got a big laugh and a request to tell the world about my creative term. When I googled the phrase just now to see where I got it, I saw a 1965 birthday wish from one person to another, lovingly sending “Mufky Pufky and Ish kabibels” to the birthday girl, and a reference in a language that I don’t know but that sounded like something my grandmother from “the old country” would have said.
Words can be fun, mis-leading, provocative, and insulting – or is that, assaulting. Let’s all keep that in mind as we talk with family, colleagues, parents, and especially students.
I noticed a long time ago that even people I respected as highly intelligent and effective in their lives struggled with self-advocacy. Self-advocacy is widely recognized as an essential skill for each student in order to contribute to post-K-12 success as an independent citizen. Are we failing to teach that skill, or are many adults failing to retain it? When students’ IEP’s and Section 504 plans included language such as “Student will let teacher know when he doesn’t understand the homework assignment,” I have wondered how these students will achieve this goal when so many of the very capable adults I’ve known might well have failed to accomplish it.
Just last evening, a woman I admire, with academic and career credentials anyone would be proud to have, described her inability to ask a person whom she had hired to do work in her home to deliver the result he had been hired to deliver. The problem wasn’t that the worker was unable to meet my friend’s needs, but that my friend was uncomfortable simply asking for what she was paying for.
Maybe my friend’s reluctance was a creature of past discouragement. If one doesn’t think “asking” will work, why put oneself “out there”? Poet Maya Angelou said “Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it!” Maybe we’re somehow afraid of success.
Or maybe self-advocacy is too often identified with being “pushy” or “aggressive,” rather than task-oriented and self-assured. Are people reluctant to go after their needs because they simply are insecure about how to do so?
But let me encourage you a bit, at least as self-advocacy applies to your position as a pupil transportation professional. Consider carving out those requests that you must make for the sake of your student riders, from those things you’d just like to have in your work environment. Practice asserting yourself with supervisors to get the equipment, the changes, the personnel that you need to keep students safe. When self-advocacy is, in reality, for the benefit of students whose safety depends upon you, you’re obligated to take the plunge. Maybe if you (1) identify what they need; (2) develop a plan to get it for them; and (3) carry it out with good timing, respect, and awareness of the style and limitations of the people with the power to give you what you need for students, you’ll find you’re successful – at least some of the time. Maybe, then, you’ll try it in your personal life as well.
Long-time star of the Tonight Show, comedian Johnny Carson frequently played the role of Carnac the Magnificent, a “mystic from the east” who could psychically “divine” unseen answers to unknown questions. When student safety is in your hands, you can’t depend upon others being mind-readers. You’ve got to ask for what you need to keep students safe.
I recently reviewed a few newspaper articles that I’d saved for later consideration. One item that caught my eye was written before the November election. It created a “word cloud” of one of the presidential debates. A quote from a political consultant interested me – since, being a dinosaur – I hadn’t heard of a word cloud. The consultant said, “Word clouds display the narrative and trajectory of a campaign’s emphasis and direction. They are extremely helpful in cutting through the clutter to visualize the strategy of a campaign.”
Here’s what I’m wondering: What would a word cloud created from your presentation at a safety meeting tell about what’s important to you? What would such a cloud created from your enthusiastic “back –to-school” orientation reveal about your “emphasis and direction” for the year? How often does the word “safety” actually come up? Do words of caring and compassion for children play a big role? Are their words that are significant because of their absence, and words that demonstrate your strategies when depicted visually that you really hadn’t intended to be prominent?
My web search of “word cloud” tells me there are a lot of tools available for generating a word cloud of written text. Most of them come across as neat ways to create an art form: “You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes”; create something which is “visually stunning.” Others, however, focus on a word cloud as a means of analyzing a speech.
Political campaigns use word clouds to gauge the message they’re sending. Similarly, it could be interesting for each of us who communicates by written or spoken word to occasionally use one of the word cloud generators to see if we are saying what we mean, and are getting across points that are consistent with where we really want our emphases to be.
I think I’ll try it as I prepare for upcoming conferences. Perhaps you’ll consider doing the same for your own presentations. Let me know how/ if it works for you. — Peggy
Sometimes when you travel it seems like you run into the same person at various points along the way. Last week while traveling back home from the Dominican Republic where my daughter is teaching, I had one of those experiences. I saw the same woman at the ticket kiosk, baggage counter, magazine store, and security check line. It was at this latter point that I really took notice. She was in a very tight embrace with a younger woman (who I later learned was her daughter.) There were more than the usual hugs and goodbye tears.
The parent sat a few rows ahead of me during the flight to the U.S. and I could see that she remained very emotional throughout. As it turns out, she was near me during the 2 mile walk required to get through passport control and U.S. customs in the Atlanta airport. This is where I asked her the first three words: “Are you alright?” Well she wasn’t. During Atlanta’s poor imitation of the Bataan death march, she identified herself as “Sherri,” and revealed the horrible circumstances she was enduring. Her only child was in medical school in Santiago because they couldn’t afford a school in the U.S. She had sold many of her possessions and scraped together all of her savings to afford this one week visit with her daughter because the student was very homesick and was threatening to quit med. school. It was highly unlikely she was going to see her daughter again for at least 3 years.
Upon her return to the U.S., Sherri would face additional difficulties and many unknowns. Her abusive soon-to-be ex-husband was challenging every step of the divorce process. She was certain this would continue because he had been totally non-supportive of their daughter or her for the last few years. Sherri was also uncertain if she would be able to keep her 2 jobs. She had left her jobs abruptly when her daughter’s dreams were at stake. Read the rest of this entry